The coffin and remains of the Egtved Girl. Researchers have discovered the high-status teen was born and raised afar from her burial site in Denmark.

The Surprising and Iconic Bronze Age Egtved Girl: Teenage Remains Tell a Story of Trade and Travel

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One of the best-known Danish Bronze-Age burials, the well preserved Egtved Girl was found in a barrow in 1921. Her woolen clothing, hair, and nails were perfectly preserved, but all her bones were missing. Scientists studying the ancient teenager’s remains have now made the surprising discovery that the Egtved Girl traveled great distances before her death, and wasn’t from Denmark at all.

A study has been published in the journal Nature detailing the results of modern tests done by scientists. Strontium isotope analysis on Egtved Girl’s molar, hair, and fingernails, combined with examination of her distinctive woolen clothing, have revealed she was born and raised hundreds of miles from her burial site in Egtved, in modern Denmark. Findings now show she likely came from The Black Forest of South West Germany, and she traveled between the two locations via ship frequently in the last two years of her life.

The Egtved Girl

According to LiveScience, the Egtved Girl’s oak coffin was uncovered in 1921 from a Bronze-Age archaeological site near Egtved, Denmark. The grave was found within a burial mound of dense peat bog, and has been dated to 1370 B.C.  

The clothing worn by the Bronze-Age teenager, Egtved Girl.

The clothing worn by the Bronze-Age teenager, Egtved Girl. Credit: National Museum of Denmark

Inside the coffin, the 16 to 18-year-old girl was buried. She is believed to have been of high status. The teenager had been laid on an ox hide and covered by a rough woolen blanket. The contours of where her dead body had lain are still visible, pressed into the ox hide beneath her. She had been of slim build, with mid-length blonde hair, and her clothing—a short string skirt and small, midriff-baring, sleeved top—caused a sensation when revealed in the 20s. Around her waist she had worn a large, spiked bronze disc decorated with spirals. Even now people recreate the stylish Bronze-Age fashion .

Other grave goods included bronze pins, a sewing awl, and a hair net. Local flowers decorated the top of the coffin (indicating a summertime burial), as did a small bucket of beer made of honey, wheat and cowberries.

The Egtved Girl’s coffin during excavations in 1921.

The Egtved Girl’s coffin during excavations in 1921. Credit: National Museum of Denmark

Another body was found with Egtved Girl in her coffin. Ashes and bones comprised the cremated remains of a small child recovered near Egtved Girl’s head. The identity of the child, who was about five or six years old when he or she died, is not known. No DNA could be recovered from either sets of remains, so their relationship is a mystery.

Well-Preserved Remains

Scientists found that the soil composition of the grave worked as a microclimate, preserving some items, and destroying others. Rainwater seeped in to the hollowed-out, oak-trunk coffin, but it was starved of oxygen. These conditions decayed the bones completely away, but left behind excellently-preserved fingernails, hair, scalp, a small part of her brain, and clothing.

Senior researcher Karin Margarita Frei, from the National Museum of Denmark and Centre for Textile Research at the University of Copenhagen analyzed the Bronze-Age girl’s remains, reports Science Daily .

Hair and clothing found in the coffin of the Egtved Girl.

Hair and clothing found in the coffin of the Egtved Girl. Credit: Karin Margarita Frei, National Museum of Denmark

Trade and Travel

Analysis of the high-status teenager’s remains, as well as the cremated bones of the young child, showed that the pair had spent much of their lives in a distant land, thought to be Schwarzwald (the Black Forest) in Germany.

“If we consider the last two years of the girl's life, we can see that, 13 to 15 months before her death, she stayed in a place with a strontium isotope signature very similar to the one that characterizes the area where she was born. Then she moved to an area that may well have been Jutland. After a period of c. 9 to 10 months there, she went back to the region she originally came from and stayed there for four to six months before she travelled to her final resting place, Egtved. Neither her hair nor her thumb nail contains a strontium isotopic signatures which indicates that she returned to Scandinavia until very shortly before she died. As an area's strontium isotopic signature is only detectable in human hair and nails after a month, she must have come to ‘Denmark’ and ‘Egtved’ about a month before she passed away,” Karin Margarita Frei tells Science Daily.

Comments

The density of population in bronze age central Europe was multiple times higher than previously assumed, the findings from Tollense alone show that, as the battle was huge, yet for a long time it was thought the area was basically wilderness at the time when this huge battle took place around 1300 BC. Moreover, it is evident that professional warriors took part in the battle. Possibly trade contacts and long-distance travel in these areas was much more developed than people imagine.

Please ! use her hair dna to make another Egtved girl.. :)
Amazing story. betting they were both orphans, on their own journey through life back then :)
Like to have met her about her adventures. Yet what happened in denmark ? she and her young friend catch a disease there ? She may have traveled back and forth several times, established relations;
as led to her respectful burial.

lizleafloor's picture

Thanks to everyone for their very nice comments!

Yes, I agree with you Joe – I spent a long time thinking about what her life may have been like, and the highs and lows she must have gone through. The Egtved girl really serves to reconnect us with the ancient people in a physical way, making them ‘real’; with real lives, travels, relationships, fears and hopes, just as we have now. 

Interesting and informative.

What an interesting story! Thanks.

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